Welcome to the iSportsWeb’s second New England Patriots mock draft of the offseason, aka New England Mock II: Empire Strikes Mock.
Glad to have you.
As a quick refresher, the last mock looked like this (taken from a long series of position previews):
1st Round: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
2nd Round: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
3rd Round: DaQuan Jones, DT, Penn State
4th Round: Chris Watt, OG, Notre Dame
6th Round (from PHI): Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
6th Round: Deion Belue, CB, Alabama
7th Round: Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana
So has anything changed since then? Well, there’s no way Allen Robinson will be available in the 60s. Same goes for Cody Latimer by the 7th round. But otherwise, the other prospects’ draft stock hasn’t changed all that drastically.
The Rules of the Mock
1. No picking “In-Case-He-Slips” Prospects
So, as a reminder, that includes Eric Ebron, Louis Nix III, David Yankey, Kelvin Benjamin, and Justin Gilbert. It seems unfair to pick a player who is more than likely a Top-15 selection and for me to just say “Oh, in this draft world that I’ve created, Jadeveon Clowney slides all the way almost out of the first round, where Bill Belichick happily gobbled him up!” is a waste of time. But just know that Ebron and Nix III aren’t falling past the Patriots. Not a chance.
2. No guessing compensatory picks/no trades
As compensatory picks aren’t awarded until March, I’m not going to bother here. The Wes Welker and Danny Amendola signings cancel each other out, but the Patriots will probably receive at least one pick in the 6th round after sorting through Patty Chung/Danny Woodhead/etc. There are some players in the round range who I would love to mock the Patriots taking, but until they’re set in stone, I’m not going to bother. Also no trades. That would be cheating.
3. I’m operating under the assumption that Aqib Talib will be resigned.
This is, of course, a dangerous assumption to make. But I think the Patriots (if they’re as smart as I think they are) will make Talib their No. 1 priority this offseason, and Talib has shown that he wants to come back. Julian Edelman I’m a lot less sure about. Until Talib signs elsewhere, I’m going to guess the Pats will lock him down (otherwise this mock looks very different).
4. In this hypothetical, Jace Amaro is unavailable by the Patriots’ pick.
A couple of reasons for this:
1) Because I wanted to mix it up
2) Because there are a bunch of teams ahead of the Pats who want to have a young Joker tight end to build around, such as the Jets, Cardinals, Packers, and Chiefs. Hard to think he’ll make it all the way to 29.
And 3) Because EVERY mock has the Pats taking Amaro. And if we’ve learned anything about Bill Belichick, he doesn’t play by anyone else’s big board, and will pick someone who most teams rank as a 3rd round prospect….Plus he’ll probably trade out of the 1st anyway….I’m talking myself out of writing this mock draft.
But let’s get to it.
Round 1: Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Once Vince Wilfork went down with an injury, the Patriots’ defensive line imploded, not just in rush defense, but in getting to the quarterback. As much as I love the three-headed monster of Chris Jones/Joe Vellano/Seaver Siliga, they just weren’t the same physical threats as Wilfork and Kelly, allowing the offensive line to focus on keeping Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich in check. Hageman would change all of that.
At 6’6, 318, Hageman has got almost a JJ Watt frame at defensive tackle. He’s got tremendous burst, even for a man his length, and consistently bull rushes interior lineman off their feet. In a draft class filled with super-athletic defensive linemen, Hageman may be tops (seriously, dig that interception at 0:29). There are concerns: he’s still raw in his technique, and flashes more than constantly dominates. At this point he’s more pass-rusher than run-stuffer, but should the Patriots be willing to take the time to develop him, he could potentially be in the long term what New England hope to find in Tommy Kelly and then some.
Round 2: Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame
Now, of course, picking Hageman means forgoing Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the last of the three elite tight ends in this draft in terms of who can step in and immediately help this team. But when it comes to upside, Troy Niklas out of Notre Dame is one hell of a backup plan. The junior shocked scouts some by leaving school early, but still had an impressive season with 32 receptions for 498 yards and 5 TD.
All that said, Niklas is raw and, while an athletic freak, lacking the top-line speed that Amaro, Ebron, and even ASJ have. But Niklas would be devastating in the red zone and is already an excellent blocker. If a team were to plug in Troy Niklas as their No. 1 tight end right away, they would have to suffer some learning bumps along the way. Luckily the Patriots have one of the top three tight ends in the NFL in Rob Gronkowski, who should be both a great mentor and cushion for Niklas. The Pats can wait for Niklas’ ability to catch up to his upside, and delight in the results.
Round 3: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska
So long, tall corners are all the rage now, with the Seattle defense bringing the thunder to Peyton Manning’s Broncos (which was delightful). And while Justin Gilbert, Keith McGill, and Pierre Desir are all being hyped for this very reason, right alongside them is Nebraska corner, Stanley Jean-Baptiste.
While Talib should be back in a Patriots uniform (knocking all of the wood), the Patriots could still add another secondary prospect, especially one who can match up with the gigantic receivers and tight ends that fill up the league. The former wideout is still underdeveloped in his coverage skills, and his footwork isn’t elite by any means, but he does have the raw athleticism and size to make game-changing plays (as evidenced by his 4 INT in 2013). SJB could quite certainly be taken earlier than this (CBSSports lists him as a 3rd round prospect, WalterFootball in the 2-4 range), but as of now he’d be a great fit.
Round 4: Jordan Tripp, LB, Montana
Since I started watching tape of Jordan Tripp, arguably the best small-school defender in the country, I haven’t been able to stop. Because there’s just so much to love about the 6’3, 237 lb linebacker out of Montana. Tripp can move quickly into rushing lanes and make plays in the backfield, but he also performs well in coverage. He has the athleticism and agility to wreak havoc on the edge, but he has the instincts and patience to play in the middle as well. He’s undervalued because of his small-school status and because middle linebackers aren’t highly valued (plus a lot of other big names there with CJ Moseley, Yawin Smallwood, and Chris Borland). But he was a leader his whole time in Montana and seems like a coach’s dream.
The Patriots will almost certainly say goodbye to Brandon Spikes this offseason, as well as Dane Fletcher, leaving the cupboard pretty bare at linebacker. This is where Tripp’s versatility becomes a huge asset, and could even allow Dont’a Hightower to move into a three-point stance on third down (sliding Chandler Jones inside). Should Tripp slip this far, the Patriots will take him in an instant.
Round 6: Kevin Norwood, WR, Alabama
Kevin Norwood is such a weird prospect to evaluate, and that’s mostly because he’s so boringly consistent. The 6-2, 195 wideout was overshadowed by his teammates on offense (uh…Amari Cooper), but still had a great 2013 season with 38 rec for 568 yards and 7 TDs. Norwood doesn’t have top-end speed or burst, but is a steady route-runner with great hands.
And you better believe Tom Brady would like some more “steady route-runners with great hands.” The Patriots are flush with young wideouts with Dobson, Thompkins, and Boyce, but Norwood would another key red zone target, and has the athleticism to make the occasional big play. While he was never the No. 1 option at Alabama, he wouldn’t have to be in New England either, and his transition from learning from Nick Saban to Belichick/McDaniels will be seamless. I don’t have a great feel for Norwood’s stock (he had a great Senior Bowl but most likely won’t turn heads at the Combine), and I could see him go anywhere from the 4th to undrafted. I’ll split the difference and plop him in the sixth, where he’d be a steal for New England.
Round 6: Jordan Najvar, TE, Baylor
My love for Jordan Najvar as a tight-end prospect has been well documented, so I’ll just give you the Cliff notes. After a career at Baylor in which he was only utilized as a blocker in the Bears’ spread offense, the 6-6 260 Najvar has a helluva coming-out party in practices at the East-West Shrine Game, in which he flaunted his soft hands, huge catch radius, and great athleticism for his frame.
While he doesn’t have Niklas’ apparent upside, he may be a tad more game-ready, and his blocking ability would be greatly appreciated. But he would also be an immediate improvement in the passing game over Matthew Mulligan and even Michael Hoomanawanui (both of whom are free agents). Because of the lack of game-film as a receiver, and the insane depth at tight end in this draft class, Najvar may be available come Day 3. So why draft two tight ends? Well because Gronk’s health has become a bonafide concern lately, and the Patriots can’t afford to have that element of their passing game taken away like it was last year. While Niklas is more of an in-line end, Najvar has the athleticism to occupy the “move” spot. The Baylor grad would provide immediate depth and insurance, while still having some upside as a useful starter at the Pro Level.
Round 7: Corey Linsley, C, Ohio State
The interior of the Patriots’ offensive line was a bit of a mess this past season, as both Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly had down years, and the Patriots may lose both of them. Wendell is set to be a free agent, and Connolly’s $2.5mil cap hit may be too much for the Pats to take. With Marcus Cannon and Josh Kline able to play guard, the focus might be more on finding a young center.
Corey Linsley isn’t bursting with upside or athleticism. But he was a steady leading presence on one of the best offensive lines in the country, that helped the Buckeyes average 321.3 rushing yards a game, 2nd best in the NCAA. He’s an extremely strong, durable player, and one who’s acutely aware of his surroundings at all time. While he doesn’t have huge burst, Linsley’s workman mentality will fit right in with this Patriots team, and would be a huge asset in the first year of the Dave DeGuglielmo era.
And if you have players to recommend, let me know for the next mock, coming in two weeks!